Honors | American Jewish Writers
H303 | 21352 | Alvin Rosenfeld
Beginning in the early decades of the twentieth century, American
literature broadened its mainstream tradition to include a type of
author seldom seen in earlier periods. I refer to our ethnic
writers, whose works reveal just how culturally complex American
life can be. This course, devoted to a study of some representative
Jewish writers, aims to clarify several major aspects of this
complexity, all of them rooted in a sense of history older and wider
than America’s own.
We shall begin by reflecting on the eastern European origins of
American-Jewish writing and then try to see how our writers link the
major traditions of American literature with traditions that derive
from the European past. Our concerns will be with both the
connections and the confrontations between old world and new and
with how literature tries to negotiate a balance between them. In
studying a body of writing that registers a strong sense of history
as well as a strong sense of modernity, we shall come to better
understand some of the notable accomplishments of recent American
literature as well as some of the tensions and contradictions
inherent in the American experience.
Among other matters, we shall take up the following: How can
American-Jewish writers help us understand the nature of the
American character? How can they help us understand what it means to
be an American Jew? What do they have to tell us about the place and
importance in our lives of love, work, the family, religion,
education, the intellectual life, individual freedom, communal
loyalty? These and related questions will form the core of our
readings and discussions over the course of the semester.
This course is open to all students with an interest in the subject
matter and a willingness to do the assigned readings on schedule.
Regular attendance of all class meetings is expected, as is
participation in class discussion.
Readings will feature memoirs, novels, short stories, and some
essays by such writers as Mary Antin, Abraham Cahan, Bernard
Malamud, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Cynthia Ozick, Aryeh Lev
Stollman, and Anne Roiphe. There will be a stress on close reading
of the literature and a critical appreciation of its literary and
Written work will include both in-class and out-of-class
assignments. Most of these assignments will be in essay form, so
strong writing skills will be a decided asset for students taking
Students are encouraged to see me during office hours to discuss any
aspect of their work in the course. My regular office hours will be
Tuesday and Thursday, from 3:45-4:30 p.m. (Ballantine Hall 453). If
these times are not convenient, please call me (855-2325) or e-mail
me (ROSENFEL@indiana.edu) to schedule a special appointment.